"In Port" by Olga Konoshchuk, 90x120cm, oil on canvas 2016
I was learning everything through books as being close to the Soviet Union there was no internet available to us
Today we met with artist Olga Konoshchuk, a very talented painter from Ukraine who is currently based in London. Konoshchuk has had great success in Ukraine, from very early in her artistic development, and since then her work has been presented in numerous solo and group exhibitions throughout Europe, Australia and North America. Her paintings can also be found in distinguished private and corporate collections all around the world and so we take this opportunity to ask her some questions about her life and her art.
Ms Konoshchuk, you and your artistic creations have travelled the world for years yet it is in Ukraine that your passion for creativity stemmed. You trained at the Art School of Fine Art in Kyev so tell us, how big of an impact did it have on your artistic development?
“My art dream started in my home country at a very early age. I come from a family of designers, you see, so I was introduced to art very early and it was my father in particular who gave me the motivation to go to art school. Luckily, at the time, education in Ukraine was free for talented children, which was a big incentive and opportunity for many kids like me who were able to attend both the Art School of fine art in Kiev and the National Academy of fine arts for free.
I was very lucky to be taught by the last three soviet professors at the School (Lev Prizant, Zoya Lerman and Oleg Zhyvotkov), because that meant I received a solid training in classical oil and academic painting.”
You then continued at the National Academy of fine arts in Kiev with a scholarship?
“When I finished school at 18, I went through a competition and I managed to obtain a scholarship that funded my studies at the National Academy of Fine Art. There I deepened my classical training through the study of perspective, anatomy and important figurative paintings. I was learning everything through books as being close to the Soviet Union there was no internet available to us. Fortunately, I was again very lucky with my art professors. As you know, many art professors tend to restrict you and make you conform to what they think is the style everyone should use, and this can be very damaging for a young artist. On the contrary, Valentina Vyrodava-Gotye and Vasyl Gurin, which were my art professors at the time, left me free to explore my art and find my own artistic style. And this is something that was very positive for me and for which I am infinitely grateful to them”.
Tell us about your paintings. What is your main source of inspiration?
“Travelling. Mark (my husband) and I travel a lot, especially in Asia and Australia, as we really enjoy exploring different cultures. It is especially the uniqueness of the colours of each place that I am fascinated by and that I seek to crystallise into my paintings”.
Talking about colours, some art critics have seen a link between your work and the paintings of the fauvists, especially Matisse. Do you recognise yourself in that?
“Yes, absolutely. Matisse had a great influence on me. I love his confidence in the use of black lines and the mastery with which he associates colours and shapes on the canvas. Like him, I use colour as the primary means of expression in my works.
I also feel an affinity with Matisse’s thoughts as art as a comfortable armchair. Some artists only want you to be shocked but do not care to impress you. Art should keep away from gimmicks and should allow viewers to interpret and find their own meanings from it. I wish to untie viewers with my art and I do not wish to give instructions on how they should see any artwork or what they should perceive.”
Your artwork radiates positivity so what positivity has come from your work?
“My artworks often remind people of home, wherever that may be. I think this is very positive but my work also helps people in other ways. For example, my art was part of an Art Charity Auction by ‘Ansbacher Bank’, which was jointly organised with Oliver Rothschild and Nick Bonham of Bonhams Fine Art Auctioneers. Good is done one small step at the time”
Do you paint outside or in your studio?
“I don’t ‘paint en plein air’ or anything like that. In fact, I can paint a landscape or a cityscape months after having seen it. Even if I were to paint in Kiev, most of my paintings would be cityscapes, fueled by my desire to immortalise the beauty I had seen during my travels. I have found that many people visiting or emigrated to Ukraine from other countries often recognise, with nostalgia, the colours and the emotions of their origins in my cityscapes as if they can feel the roots of my inspiration.”
So you have an expressive quality to your artistic process?
“My transition towards abstract happens through colour. I am fascinated by inner tones as neither the subject nor the actual object are important. I also experiment with texture and I often repaint over my own paintings. Material can give deep dimensions to an artwork and so I use boards as well as papier colle to explore shape and texture. At times, I can see buildings in my art but the colours often take me on an unexpected journey through feeling and meditation.”
What are your other influences in art history?
“I feel a connection to Nicolas de Staël. He simplified artistic combinations on the canvas and was an innovator who started to feel and express through texture. Gauigin’s use of colour is important to me and the plasticity of how the colours move and integrate into another one. I also believe that Rothko is an inspirational artist. I had seen his work published in catalogues but in real life he was just amazing and wonderfully luminous - it’s difficult to explain and very spiritual. Of course Matisse is a big influence as well as I admire his artistic confidence.”
Do you work on commission?
“I do work on commission but I do not paint from pictures. With my Portrait work, I always need someone to talk to and to feel the energy. However, when I accept a portrait I do not think of it as such. For me, external stimulus is very important in finding inspiration for colour and emotion.
If the commission is a landscape, I would have to have in mind an original idea of a place I have seen with my own eyes. Even my Abstract works require input from my memories and I follow my heart. When I close my eyes I can see the colours are in my mind’s eye after months of physically seeing a place. Photos cannot give me colour for my art as the colours are in my head and connected to an experience.
Sometimes I come back to the studio to look at the painting. Something bothers me. She looks for balance. Watching her she spends a lot of time on balance and structure. Cezanne, Picasso and Matisse. What bothers you? Colour is good but there is too much on the painting for instance. Or texture is too much or not enough. I don’t add glue or anything to it.”